"Genuine Chaozhou Stewed Duck." Or so claims a sign in this spit and shined, squeaky clean little shop in Sri Muda/Shah Alam.
Now, I'll admit right up front that what I know about the cuisine of Guangdong province's Chaozhou (aka Teowchow, aka Chiuchow) you could fit in a shot glass, so I'm in no position to judge authenticity. But delectable, yummy, luscious - all these I know, and know well. Any and all of these adjectives accurately describe the fare at Ayer Itam.
First up, the restaurant's namesake: duck rubbed with spices and stewed until it's falling apart tender, beautiful boneless mini slabs served in a pool of warm, lightly soy-seasoned broth complemented by a palate refresher of spritely, bitter Chinese celery leaves and toasty fried garlic. This hillock of meat is meant to be eaten with rice, but quite frankly I opted to leave the white stuff aside and devote my attention to the quack.
On the side, a Sinicized version of (American) southern-style long-stewed mustard greens. These meltingly soft stems and leaves with the odd piece of pork are seasoned hot and sour (more the latter than the former) and go down easy. I could eat a bowl of these velvety stems and leaves just about everyday.
Meicai (if my tin ear caught the proprietess' pronunciation correctly) is a variation on the greens theme: more mustard, but in this case the vegetable is slow-cooked in broth, soy, and a spice combo that hints at anise and cinammon. Meatless and evincing a bit more toothsomeness than its hot and sour relative, this dish o' greens is nonetheless equally delectable.
Ayer Itam has been open just over half a year. Owners Ann and her husband hail from Penang (also known -to Malaysians anyway - as 'street snarf central'), where her grandfather opened the original Ayer Itam Duck Rice Restaurant years ago. The menu extends beyond duck rice to include other, primarily pork and tofu-centric, Chaozhou favorites. If there's any justice in this world we'll be heading back soon to sample every last one of them.
Note: I really would eat those hot and sour mustard greens everyday. If anyone can point me in the direction of a recipe or a place closer to KL where I can dish 'em up or da pao I'd be most appreciative.
Ayer Itam Duck Rice Restaurant, No. 8 Jalan Sepadu B 25/B, Seksyen 25, Shah Alam. Tel. 016-358-2711.